Having debuted on DVD two years ago, Chicago blows in with a jazzed-up edition in time for holiday giving. The big question is: Why wasn’t this released two years ago, instead of the merely decent one-disc edition?
Maybe Miramax just wanted to flim-flam and bamboozle ‘em.
And All That Jazz
Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones’s Diary) is a sweet, innocent little woman with big-time ambitions. Her dream is to be on the stage, in the limelight, entertaining the crowds with her vaudevillian talents.
Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones, High Fidelity) is a not-so-sweet woman who’s already a star of sorts, co-starring on stage with her sister, Veronica.
Both Roxie and Velma take a wrong turn after they are each found to be at the safe end of guns that kill their two-timing partners. And with that, the two jazz slayers wind up in prison together, under the auspice of “Mama” Morton (Queen Latifah, Bringing Down the House).
Turning to the media and Billy Flynn (Richard Gere, Unfaithful), a shifty but incredibly successful lawyer, the ladies manage to find notoriety and freedom in 1920s Chicago.
The conceit of Chicago’s latest film adaptation (Roxie Hart starred Ginger Rogers in 1942, and it was previously filmed in 1927) is that all the musical numbers are Vaudeville acts running through Roxie’s fertile imagination. It’s a nifty, well-conceived way to smoothly integrate the musical numbers into the story’s cinematic narrative. Roxie’s fantasy world reaches its zenith in Zellweger’s Marilyn Monroe-esque rendition of Roxie, one of the numbers that takes on a whole new life in this film version.
What makes Chicago such a treasure is its timelessness. It takes place in the 1920s, was written in the 1970s, and its bark still has bite in the new millennium. No matter if it’s one of the real-life jazz slayers, Richard Nixon, O.J. Simpson, Bill Clinton, or Kobe Bryant, the mainstream’s hunger for dirt on those of celebrity status has been around a long time. It’s that appetite for the distasteful and unsavory that Chicago so satisfyingly skewers.
Here’s a bit of nostalgia from the Movie Habit archives, a snippet from the review of the original Chicago DVD, released August 19, 2003:
“For a fairly historic movie (Chicago won six Oscars and was the first musical to win the award for Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968), the DVD’s supplemental materials are skimpy. No doubt this edition will be made obsolete down the road. After all, Miramax has already released its other major 2002 Oscar contenders, Gangs of New York and Frida, as double-disc sets.” Mattstradamus was right again! Two years later, the Chicago double-disc has arrived and the original version is obsolete. It’s not clear how many people have been waiting with bated breath for this double dip and it’s not a clear-cut must-own for those already in possession of the original. But this is most definitely a better package than the original release.
For starters, the documentary on the original edition, a fairly lightweight, self-congratulatory piece focusing on the movie production and crew, has been dumped in favor of a better 30-minute documentary that focuses more on the transition from Fosse’s stage to Marshall’s screen. Put in the bits of historical information from the original disc’s documentary (and the music video for And All That Jazz that provided the first documentary’s climax) and it’d be a real winner.
As for the rest of Disc 1, the running commentary by director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon is the same as before, but it’s a good one that this writer said two years ago “provides a definitive analysis of the thought process in transferring the musical from stage to screen.” Also returning is the supplemental inclusion of the song Class, with Ebb’s original lyrics, ones deemed too risqué back in the 1970s.
Extras, Disc 2
As for Disc 2, it brags of “Exclusive Never-Before-Seen Extras,” including VH1 Behind the Movie Chicago. Hello? If it’s been on VH1, then how does it qualify as being “never before seen”? Sure, VH1’s ratings have tanked over the past couple years, but that’s a bit harsh.
Mercifully, things get better from there. The jacket simply lists “Extended Musical Performances,” but this was really an ideal opportunity blown. They could have taken advantage of the seldom-used multi-angle DVD option, but instead the selected scenes split the screen – at times – two ways or three ways, incorporating the performance footage from different angles and behind the scenes action. The numbers using this format are And All That Jazz, When You’re Good to Mama, Cell Block Tango, We Both Reached for the Gun, Mister Cellophane, and All I Care About.
“From Start to Finish” presents footage from rehearsal to completion for All I Care About, Nowadays, and And All That Jazz.
Other songs are presented strictly with rehearsal footage and interviews. It’s funny how, when reduced to a bare stage and sweats, even Catherine Zeta-Jones looks like she’s back at work on a high school play. The songs in this section are I Can’t Do It Alone, Hot Honey Rag, We Both Reached for the Gun, and Cell Block Tango.
Best of the ExtrasPossibly the best new feature is When Liza Minnelli Became Roxie Hart. It starts out as just a couple of the film’s executive producers recollecting when Minnelli stepped in for an ailing Gwen Verdon during the original Broadway run of Chicago. But the segment leads into footage of Liza performing Nowadays on Dinah, which in turn leads to a special surprise. That’s historic footage and a real treat to see here. It’s a darn shame, though, they didn’t get a fresh interview with Minnelli herself about it all.
Also nice, but not completely spectacular, is Chita Rivera’s Encore, a little interview with the original Velma Kelly that helps flesh out the historical angle.
Rounding out the package are interviews and segments surrounding director Marshall, production designer John Myhre, and costume designer Colleen Atwood. Pull out paper and pen and try to keep track of how many times the words “amazing,” “extraordinary,” and that ultra-overused filler “just” are used in the interviews. Most of the footage appears to have come from the same interview sessions used on the first DVD’s documentary, but at least most of the comments are fresh for this round.
There’s also an 18-page booklet that provides some historical information surrounding the origins of the story, similar to the material included in the first DVD’s on-screen documentary.
Picture and Sound
Presented in widescreen 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 screens, the disc’s picture has been fine-tuned and color-corrected by Marshall to take advantage of the medium and emphasize some of the nuances that might have been missed in the theater.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Surround sound tracks allow the musical numbers to shine with Kander and Ebb’s brilliance coming through loud and clear. Even so, there’s nothing like seeing the original show live, on stage.
The film is also supported by French and Spanish language tracks, Spanish subtitles and English closed-captioning.